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Back in the days before he became co-creator of The Simpsons, Sam Simon, who died March 8 at 59, was desperate to win an Emmy. He was showrunner on the Judd Hirsch sitcom Taxi and, according to his ex-wife, Jennifer Tilly, the TV Academy honor was important to him. His dream came true with The Tracey Ullman Show, and then again with The Simpsons. Simon ultimately won nine of the trophies in all and lined them up — even the one that broke in the 1994 Northridge earthquake — on a shelf behind his desk.
None of them will be with Simon’s art and memorabilia collection when items go on auction in the coming months, though the broken Emmy was available to view at Sotheby’s West Hollywood headquarters Sept. 16-17, along with a treasure trove of Simpsons items and boxing memorabilia (Simon managed heavyweight Lamon Brewster), as well as a sampling of artwork to be sold at a series of upcoming auctions.
The memorabilia will be bid on in a single online event October 22; a Simpsons pinball machine is expected to draw the highest price at $1500. Artwork like Thomas Hart Benton’s T.P and Jake, an evocative 1938 portrait of a boy and his dog, is expected to fetch over $2 million at the American Art auction in New York on November 18.
According to Sotheby’s Blake Koh, the record for Benton is just over $2 million. The work owned by Simon was dedicated to the artist’s son, as per an inscription on back, and the frame is Benton’s original. Koh also holds fervent hope for Mel Ramos’s Val Veeta, a 1965 pop art piece of a naked odalisque lying on an enormous package of Velveeta cheese.
“I hope this sets a record for Ramos ’cause I think this is Ramos at the top of his game,” Koh told The Hollywood Reporter at a preview event at Sotheby’s show room. The lot is estimated at $500,000, but Koh hopes to sell it for as much as $2 million, which would be double the current record for the artist. Also on display were works by Ed Ruscha, as well as drawings by Picasso and Charles Bell’s photo-real, Majorette, a particular favorite of Drew Carey, who worked with Simon on Carey’s eponymous sitcom back in the 1990s.
“I really got a laugh when I saw the Drew Carey lunchbox being auctioned off by Sotheby’s. That’s hilarious, the funniest thing in the world over there, $300. Just the fact that Sotheby’s is auctioning off a Drew Carey lunchbox – I thought it was Sotheby’s, not a flea market,” Carey said. “Sam was great to work with. He always had tons of good ideas, always really funny. And it was always a special thing to make him laugh in the writers room.”
Simon grew up in Beverly Hills, son to a clothing manufacturer and an art gallery owner, and knew many of the artists in L.A.’s burgeoning scene at the time — people like Chris Burden (who also died thist spring), John Baldessari and Ed Kienholz. Simon was considered an art prodigy as a boy, even appearing on a TV show at the age of five. He once had his lost dog returned in a limo by his neighbor Elvis Presley, and on another occasion caught his mother and another neighbor, Groucho Marx, supine but fully-clothed on her bed.
Not included in the memorabilia are drawings he made for the Beverly Hills High newspaper and his college newspaper at Stanford. While doing piecemeal animation work after graduating, a spec script got him noticed by the producers of Taxi and within months he was running the show. Work begat work and despite a 1993 falling out with co-creator Matt Groening while working on The Simpsons (over which a non-disclosure agreement was signed), Simon’s estimated earnings from the show have been about $10 million per year.
In 2013, Simon was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer and was given six months to live. He used the time to work with his business manager, Julie Miller, to organize his estate, including his Pacific Palisades home, a Richard Neutra 1948 Case Study house, which will not be handled by Sotheby’s. Nor will the auctioneer handle Rodin’s The Thinker, once believed to be the only original cast not housed in an art institution, but since deemed to be a reproduction. All will be liquidated with proceeds going to the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation providing disaster relief and fighting poverty and cruelty to animals.
“He was an amazing, creative, extraordinary guy who has left his vast fortune to the causes he believes in,” said Miller, who recalled the last time she ever heard from Simon. “I think my last text from him was to donate money somewhere. He would say, send such and such organization $200,000. We had a code so I knew it was from him.”
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